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Feature

The shading structure at the state fair

The sliding tablets of the new seating structure are designed to create different sitting arrangements. Words and phrases reflecting Minnesota's history, the state fair, and the students' experiences are etched into their surface.

See the U's state fair Web site for more fair information.

Made for the shade

Architecture students create unique seating structure for the state fair

By Patty Mattern

Published on August 30, 2005

When your feet start throbbing and you need a break from the sizzling sun, don't settle for just any ordinary bench at the Minnesota State Fair. Find the Cadillac of benches in a shading and sitting structure designed by University of Minnesota College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (CALA) graduate students. The students donated the structure, which is located in Carousel Park, to the state fair on opening day, August 25. Creation of the shading pavilion is one of the first projects to grow out of the University's unique year-old partnership with the Minnesota State Fair. In September 2004, the University and the state fair announced that the state fairgrounds would serve as a learning laboratory for students and faculty. While investigating new building and landscape technology, they aim to create a more energy efficient and sustainable state fair. During the 15 weeks of the University's spring semester 2005, 11 architecture students collaborated to design and build the pavilion that can seat up to 28 people. The aluminum structure supports sliding transparent tablets with engraved text that serve as seating. Overhead, a lightweight truss of rod and polycarbonate shades the structure. "The project was based on the idea of having a place where people could come and sit and interact with each other," says Bess McCollough, a graduate student who worked on the structure.

"We thought, 'we're in Minnesota, in August,' and there are certain implications that come with that," she says. The structure is only optimal for shade during the state fair's run.

The student architects wanted to capture in their design what the Minnesota Fair is about--everyone getting together. "It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from or what language you speak. The fair is where everyone comes together," McCollough says. The sliding tablets are designed to create different sitting arrangements. Words and phrases reflecting Minnesota's history, the state fair, and the students' experiences are etched into their surface. If fairgoers look before sitting, they will read things such as "grandma's blue ribbon pie; 864 items on a stick; how many architects does it take to build a bench; wonders of technology; first fair 1859; where in the world are you?; France (4,218 mi.); Spain (4,529 mi.); Iran (6,456 mi.); buenos dias; shalom; and stay for the rides." When the tablets move, the words move, creating a puzzle of sorts. "It's almost like a word game that pulls people in," McCollough says. The students also designed the structure to highlight the pavilion's location in relation to the sun. "We thought, 'we're in Minnesota, in August,' and there are certain implications that come with that," she says. "The seating structure is angled and the shading is placed so as to have the greatest amount of shade for the longest amount of time in Minnesota in August." The structure is only optimal for shade during the state fair's run, so people who go there at other times of the year will not experience that benefit. McCollough and her fellow students had never built a full-scale project of one of their designs before and it was satisfying work. The students are waiting to see what fairgoers think about their new structure. "It doesn't look like something you would usually see at the state fair. It sort of has a Jetson-look to it and really, that's what part of the fair is about--being conscious of the history of Minnesota but also looking to the future," McCollough says.

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